MWD14 - On Realigning Your Vision

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This morning, I finally sat still long enough to get a close-up photo of a mysterious bird that has been frequenting my feeders and boggling my identification efforts for weeks now. It turned out to be a Brown Thrasher, and the reason it was so hard to identify is that it has some sort of growth at the base of his beak - maybe tumors? It seems totally healthy otherwise, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Bird distractions or no, a girl’s gotta eat, so let’s dig around in here and see what’s edible, shall we?

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On the ongoing COVID-19 “reopening” front, I give you:

------ The Canadian Double-Bubble ------

This idea, currently being tested in New Zealand and less-populous parts of Canada, offers a way to lessen the damaging effects of social isolation by allowing families to partner with one other family to create a new, larger “bubble” of safety. Once established, you could move freely between the two households, making sure to adhere strictly to all other safety recommendations. Even though I live in a state that has already relaxed almost all the pandemic-related restrictions, (including moving to allow full capacity at restaurants starting Friday), I’m comforted by this cautious but lovely way to start making our way forward in these difficult times.

The truth is, we’ve seen steady and significant daily increases in cases in my county, but no reported deaths in weeks, and the numbers overall remain relatively low. The other truth is I live in one of the cities still designated as hypersegregated (see here for more on this census bureau designation), and I can’t help but consider the correlation between segregated communities and case numbers. The cases here are almost all coming from the pockets of the city where low-income people of color and immigrants live. And there is almost no overlap between those communities and the other, more affluent, areas of town, so the chance for spread is low. On the other hand, some hypersegregated cities (Detroit, Chicago) have been hit hard, but they are much more densely populated and have a healthy public transportation system making overlap much more likely. My city does not. I certainly do not wish we had higher case numbers, but I am saddened to think this ongoing divide is what might be keeping those numbers down.

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I finished a life-changing book this week. I have so many ideas, but I haven’t yet figured out how to write about a book that has done this kind of work. The book is Richard Powers’ The Overstory, and I highly recommend it. For years now, I’ve returned to the words of Barbara Kingsolver about her impatience with mediocre entertainments. She - and I - prefer books that realign my vision. This book certainly has done that. Kingsolver has long been a hero of mine, even if I have been somewhat disappointed by her last two books. So, imagine my delight to find this conversation between two of my heroes, one from so many years gone and one so freshly minted:

As I considered the way their work works on me, I understood that what they both do so brilliantly is create overlapping, intertwining narratives that create connections, often unexpectedly. And given that they both often work in and speak for and through the natural world, I became convinced. To understand the intricacies of the natural world demands a finer attention, a more willing acceptance of the ways everything overlaps. I suspect that an abiding practice in that kind of seeing and listening shows these writers how to bring that intricacy to their complex narrative ecosystems, and I am a fan.

Given my propensity to sit and watch the birds and listen to the squirrels chatter in the treetops, I can only hope my “natural” education will one day pay off.

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The farm bounty from my CSA began arriving this past week, so I have been gleefully processing gorgeous heads of lettuce, yellow carrots, strawberries so sweet they melt in your mouth, and sweet potatoes, among other items. My community garden is coming along, too, and the mesclun mix has been in regular rotation. I’ve been delayed by about a week, but I’ve got my personal tomato and pepper plants ready to go in my little patio garden as soon as it stops raining. Though we do not eat a full vegetarian diet, we have in recent years cut our meat consumption pretty dramatically, despite the fact that my parents own a small farm for beef cattle. Especially in summer, when you can taste the sunshine in every bite, it’s hard to convince me that a plate full of vegetables means I’m missing out.

Dismaying it was, then, to learn that President Trump had declared meat a “scarce and critical material essential to the national defense” in response to appeals made by the meatpacking industry. Setting aside any notions of summer sunshine and vegetarianism, I struggle to understand the national defense part, but I do understand the system is broken. And since we are on the subject of writers who have realigned my vision, please consider reading this important piece from Michael Pollan on “The Sickness in Our Food Supply”

I particularly love the phrasing “the pandemic is making the case” - suggesting that the virus is mounting a disciplined, organized argument against many of our systems, and though I hate the toll it is taking, significant change as a result of catastrophe could bring some good from the bad.

For example: in contrast to our constant efforts to create “efficiencies” – things that promise to make everything cheaper and more convenient – I’m in favor of redundancy. Pollan’s article refers to local slaughterhouses in that way, and this Siddharta Mukherjee article in the May 4 New Yorker talked about the value of redundancies and building in “strategic slack” in industries, especially those supplying medical equipment. Mukherjee: another realigner of vision.

Related side note: my dad reports that his small, local slaughterhouse is scheduling out to Summer 2021. No way to get animals in before then. The system, even regionally, is broken.

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Want to see more of what could change? Breaking Ground is a new project from Comment magazine and several partners attempting to make this vision realignment more of a reality. It is set to start June 1, and you can bet I’m going to be paying attention.

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Unexpected Joy Department:

Obviously this squirrel reading over lunch

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And Now for Some Truly Shameless Self-Promotion

(or what I’ve posted lately)

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An Interview with Kaela Noel, author of Coo

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Considering I drop Sam Sifton’s name every week or two, it should come as no surprise that I loved his new cookbook See You on Sunday and that it convinced me now is the perfect time to start planning my own weekly open door dinners.

On Gathering and Sam Sifton’s See You on Sunday

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An Interview with Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of Mañanaland

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